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Frequently Asked Questions

These common questions and their short answers are taken from Caroline Jarrett’s book Surveys That Work: A Practical Guide for Designing Better Surveys. You can find longer answers to each in your copy of the book, either printed or digital version.

  1. I see so many bad surveys—isn’t the best survey the one that’s not done at all?
    Unfortunately, we are all bombarded with bad surveys. For example, someone in an organization decides that constantly blasting out questionnaires to every customer is a great way to get feedback. Their response rate is terrible, but they don’t consider that this poor response will simply create lots of errors—and annoyed customers. And since these bad questionnaires go to everyone, you’ve got a very good chance of seeing too many questionnaires—and many of them will be rotten ones. A bad survey gets you bad data. A bad application of any method gets you bad data.
  2. What’s the best survey tool?
    Survey tools change constantly, so I’ve learned not to make any specific recommendations. But I have written Spotlight F, “Questions to Ask When You Choose a Survey Tool,” that has the crucial questions to ask when you’re picking one.
  3. When I’m using a Likert scale, how many response points are best?
    If you want a quick answer for the number of response points, 5 is good. If you want a more complex answer, skip to Figure H.9, which is a flowchart to help you decide on the number of response points. And if you want my reasons for those answers, there’s Spotlight H, “’On a Scale from 1 to 5’ (Likert and Rating Scales).”
  4. You’ve included a Survey Octopus with tentacles and a smile—don’t you know that’s all wrong for octopuses?
    You’ll meet the Survey Octopus in the Introduction—it’s a cartoonish representation of Total Survey Error. It’s not a real octopus: they have mouths between their arms and no tentacles. My favorite feature is their blue blood.
  5. I got sent this terrible survey—please can I send it to you?
    Of course! I’m always glad to add more examples to my stash. If sharing the pain with me will help, feel welcome—but I won’t be able to do anything about it. You’ll find my contact details on my website:
  6. Is there any chance that I can persuade someone who sends me a bad survey to do something else?
    Yes, contact the person or organization who sent it to you and ask them to buy this book.

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